One of the things that have so far been sorely missing from the Lord of the Rings franchise is a proper, good RPG videogame, which is a rather interesting when considering that the setting seems to lend itself absolutely well for a role-playing game. With that in mind, Snowblind Studios set out to create a hack-and-slash RPG game based on the franchise that would, at the same time, tell an entirely new story that doesn’t quite follow the fellowship of the ring.
The formula used, however, works just barely enough to make a nice game, and definitely not enough to make a smash hit that could redefine the RPG genre and give new life to middle earth. Boasting a usual, somewhat derivative storyline and a gameplay style that can’t quite be called an RPG due to its overwhelming linearity and lack of proper choice at any point in the storyline, War in the North plays much better as a beat-em-up with some very light RPG elements and failed aspirations of being a Diablo clone than it does as the middle earth-based RPG game Snowblind first announced.
Even when not following with the story of Frodo and company is most definitely an improvement for a Lord of the Rings based videogame, the lack of an interesting driving storyline keeps this game from shining and the linearity in it makes it just as bad as if it had been based on the books. You start out the game as either a human (Dunedain) ranger, an elf loremaster or a dwarf warrior who’s a part of a group that’s scouting the zone around Bree and who have been called upon by Aragorn to help him investigate some recent attacks that have been happening around the zone, which they believe are caused by roaming orcs in the zone and the forces of Sauron that are attempting to capture Frodo to get their hands in the One ring.
And that’s the part of the storyline that works. Soon enough, however, the player finds himself chasing after one of Sauron’s servants who’s decided to set base upon the fortress once used by the Witch King of Angmar and who’s keeping a siege on Bree, Rivendell and some dwarf town whose name I can’t recall from there. Sadly, the story is pretty derivative with most of it consisting in finding out who the big baddie is and then going after him, not without before allying with a dragon (You’re giving the choice to defy him, but you can’t kill him) to remind you of Bilbo’s exploits in The Hobbit.
Sadly, the storyline is so weak and the characters so badly developed that it is impossible to actually get to care for any of the protagonists, with the eagle Beleram taking the prize for being the most interesting character in the game and probably being the only character that’s properly developed instead of being just a model with a cliché personality stuck to it.
The gameplay is also a mixed bag, though in general it fares better than the story does. More than a RPG, War in the North is a beat-em-up game that has the computer sending wave after wave of monsters against you, with the actual RPG elements being so light they may as well have not been there – Snowblind promised an extensive land with lots of side quests you could do to get more information about the story, yet most side quests are so simple you just need to speak to someone in the nearest town and then play your way through the game until you almost accidentally stumble with whatever it is said character was looking for. You never really go out of your way for a side quest except in a single occasion, and none of said side quests reward you with any proper story, they all instead end with you receiving a gear choice, which brings me to the second point: The attempts at turning the game into a Diablo clone of sorts.
Truth is, the gear part of the game, though somewhat interesting, is so lame it shouldn’t have even been there. Most of the gear management consists in seeing whatever will deal more damage or has more defense and putting it on and the armor sets, though in line with what you’d expect from Tolkien’s middle earth, look so repetitive I couldn’t care less about a new item I got after beating a boss – They all might as well look the same for what I care, since there’s no telling them apart for all I care. The stat system in the items works even worse, often making the player wonder if whatever bonus they give is actually worth it at all over just getting something that offers better defense.
Besides the weak RPG and lootfest elements, however, War in the North is indeed a fun game that I’d rather compare to Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine than to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. When seen as a beat-em-up, War in the North delivers a much better experience than Space Marine did back in September and it actually becomes a pretty nice entry in the genre that, though not genre-defining, works well enough to be both likeable and enjoyable.
As for the game difficulty, it is actually very well balanced with the campaign on Normal setting being just a bit challenging; unlike in Space Marine where boss fights were often horribly hard. War in the North delivers an experience that’s just hard enough to keep the game challenging without making it horribly hard except on the challenge scenarios, where the difficulty is horribly high and the reward is null (This reviewer refused to finish any of them since they’re pointless and absolutely unrelated to the story).
When it comes to the game mechanics, they in general work fine enough to never become a hindrance except for a single thing: The save system in this game is one of the worst save systems I’ve found, being a checkpoint-based system that never quite knows when to save. It had me repeat the first boss fight simply because after it (and the cutscene that followed) I just went to Bree and quit, without noticing it never thought it’d be a good idea to save after a boss fight is done. Other than the horrible save system that seems to be becoming commonplace (Both Alice: Madness Returns and Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine suffered from this, as if the concept of saving whenever you want hadn’t been perfected two decades ago), the game in general works well and at not a single point did I find any bugs that detracted me from playing, except for the constant stuttering the game seems to love doing at several points, the last chapter being the worst offender. However, for all its flaws, War in the North is one stable game that never locked up, crashed or gave me any game-breaking bugs.
Graphically, the game also shines: This is one pretty game that, though heavily based in Peter Jackson’s view of Middle Earth, delivers several beautiful vistas and is graphically filled enough with details to actually have the world come alive in front of the player. Leaving the whole “all armor looking the same” detail, the looks of this game easily stand out and the nice way in which its looks were optimized is something worth mentioning, though it is also worth mentioning that most graphical options seem to have very little to no effect in the looks of the game – thus making me wonder if they’re just decoy buttons put there to make the gamers believe they can change anything without them doing a thing.
The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is, to put it simply, a fine entry to the franchise and a decent beat-em-up game that will give you several hours of fine entertainment. Though not too long (It took me roughly 18 hours to complete my first playthrough, and I’m a slow gamer!), it at least keeps your interest through the not too amazing storyline and the gameplay feels fresh for just enough to allow the player to complete the game without seeing it as a chore. As for whether it is worth the asking price or not, I believe an ideal price for this game would’ve been around the $30, with the suggested retail price of $50 being a little too much to play for a game that, in the end, is more of an underdog and one of those games that, though fun, don’t have what it takes to become highlights of their genre.
Final review rating: 3.5/5
Availability: Currently available on physical and digital form from Amazon.com
|Buy for PC
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|Buy for Xbox 360
|Buy PS3 Collector’s Edition
|Buy Xbox 360 Collector’s Edition